Directed by Peter Berg and staring Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor is the true story of a four-man SEAL team reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, as told by the mission’s sole survivor, Marcus Luttrell. The mission in question was to track down Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, who had masterminded the killing of numerous Marines in the prior weeks.
Before the team can move in on Shah, however, a goat herder and his sons come across the SEALs. The SEALs capture them and debate what to do about them. They know that if they let them go, the Afghans will run straight to Shah and report their presence. That will ruin the mission and get them killed. But they can’t hold them prisoner either if they want to accomplish their mission. Thus, a debate begins about killing them. Ultimately, however, the team decides this would be wrong and they let the herder go.
My first thought about this film was simple: this was the Iraqi/Afghan film the public wanted to see. This film showed the hardships and hard choices these men faced. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but it doesn’t make the good guys into villains either. It also explains why they were there, both by showing how evil the bad guys are and how there are good Afghans too who need protection. Had Hollywood focused on films like this, rather than trying to slander and politicize these wars, then their track record wouldn’t be an unmitigated list of failed films. But Hollywood couldn’t help themselves and their box office results show the consequences. This film, by the way, made $143 million on a $40 million budget, and has blown away every other post 9/11 war film.
Interestingly, the film isn’t without an anti-war bent either. In fact, in the key scene, you see Navy SEALs debating the murder of a goat herder and his sons. Prior to the rest of the 9/11 films, this likely would have shocked and outraged American audiences, but here it doesn’t feel anti-American at all. To the contrary, it really ultimately shows that these guy choose ethics and morality over common sense, and that kind of makes you proud seeing how much they risk to do the right thing.
The film also shows Americans getting overwhelmed and killed. That too would have been shocking before the other 9/11 films, but here it just goes to highlight the horrible missions we are asking these guys to undertake. This isn’t a statement on American troops being unprepared or incompetent, it is a statement of the odds these men face every day.
My next thought is that I hated watching this film. Don’t get me wrong, this was a strong and compelling film. It was well shot, well acted and well written. The highs are high and the lows are low and the film is super thoughtful. It is an excellent film.
...but, I hated watching this film because of the subject matter. It sucks thinking that these guys, with so much to offer the world, died fighting such animals. It sucks knowing that these creatures will continue long after we’ve gone, killing and torturing and destroying everything and everyone their sick religion doesn’t like. It sucks knowing that there are great men of courage, like Mohammad Gulab, who saved Luttrell and protected him, who must now fear being destroyed by the animals who form the Taliban. That’s not how life should be.
Finally, I will say that the one problem I had with the film was that I have seen so much in reality TV on the Discovery Channel (and the such) that it’s hard for films to have the same impact. It’s hard to compete with the real thing, and many of the documentaries about the men who fight these wars are very compelling. This one, however, does hit home as it is a true story, and they do end the film by showing you the real men... a very sad moment.